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NYC's LGBTQ Community is Actively Supporting Gay Bars Through The Pandemic - Fei Lu

KATE STOCKRAHM, HOST: The last year has been challenging for restaurants and bars -- especially for gay bars. Earlier in the pandemic, Hell’s Kitchen’s Therapy permanently closed. Fei Lu reports on the challenges facing New York City’s gay bar scene, and the impact on the LGBTQ community.

FEI LU, BYLINE : Since the pandemic began, gay bars in New York City have strugged to stay in businesses. Many bars shut down, and now operate with limited hours, but, operational costs like rent and employee salaries continue. Helen Buford,is the owner of Julius in Greenwich Village, NYC’s oldest gay bar.

HELEN BUFORD: So we closed the day before St. Patrick's Day last year. And we remained close to approximately the end of May 1 part of June. I had a bad time, I had 20 employees, and then I had none. So we went from 100% to zero all within overnight, as far as business wise.

LU: Julius has survived, but other bars like Pyramid, Bedlam, and 9th Avenue Saloon weren’t so lucky. It’s a common story.

GREGGOR MATTSON: I think gay bars have some special challenges.

LU: Greggor Mattson, is professor of sociology at Oberlin College who writes about the history of gay bars.

MATTSON: LGBTQ plus business owners are not often as well capitalized, or connected to banks, as are some straight business people. So there's a lack of access to emergency funding. There is the fact that many gay bars are run as much as a community resource as they are a business.

LU: Andrew Berman, is the Executive Director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. He says that for many LGBTQ individuals, gay bars are more than just watering holes.

ANDREW BERMAN: They're often places of performance, music, political organizing, in some cases, all of these things often mix in the spaces. And while in our increasingly virtual world, a lot of that can be done, not in person, there's ways in which some of that can really only be achieved, face to face.

LU: Berman says members of the LGBTQ community understand how important gay bars are, and are rallying to support them financially.

BERMAN: I've definitely seen a lot of people pitch in a lot of people spreading the word about, you know, the the danger that a particular beloved establishment might be and then, and how everyone can help.

LU: Like many gay bar owners in the city, Julius Bar’s Helen Buford started a GoFundMe and raised nearly $38,000, which helped pay staff salaries during the lockdown

BUFORD: And at first, the GoFundMe that I started was for the employees to be able to help them get through that time, until unemployment kicked in, because a lot of these guys because they're bartenders, or they’re waiters, or they’re cooks, they know a lot of their salary comes from tip. So I was concerned for them.

LU: Buford says business at Julius Bar is slowing picking up, and customers are returning and glad to be back. Fei Lu, Columbia Radio News.


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